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After my graduation in 1993, I joined a postgraduate diploma programme in special education at the School of Rehabilitation Sciences, Action for Ability Development & Inclusion (AADI), New Delhi.
I wanted to serve the differently-abled children. However, soon after joining the programme, I found myself amidst children who were limited by their physical and neurological conditions. The hapless condition of the children made me feel sad and gradually I started withdrawing from class participation during even the most animated training sessions.
I was almost on the verge of depression, coupled with a deep sense of worthlessness.
One day, Mita Nandi, then chairperson of AADI, was taking a class where I was quiet and aloof as usual. She immediately noticed me and asked me to meet her after the class. When I went to meet her after the session, she asked me just one question: What do you do when you are sad? I told her, I water the plant or go for a long walk. Promptly she responded, “Oh, that’s great! You give when you are sad, also you do not harm, when you are feeling low.”
“Her words resounded like magic. I started having a better self-concept. After the brief meeting with Mita Nandi, I felt much better and decided to focus on my training so that I can really contribute toward holistic development of the special kids.”
Still, it was difficult for me to accept the special kids as they were.
I had never had any exposure to having interaction with any differently-abled person within my extended family or community. Many of the special kids would be drooling in the class or would have soiled clothes till the maid would clean them. Hence, I tried not to touch them during my weekly placement as special educator in their classes.
“I wanted to serve them, but from a distance. Possibly, even the management was aware of the issue and I might not be the only person having such an attitude towards the differently-abled.”
The management decided to host a 48-hour boot camp for the special kids where all the trainee special educators were made responsible for taking care of one of the children. The trainees were expected to feed the special children, administer medication as required, make them feel better by conducting any activities of their choice and sleep in the same dormitory so that any exigency can be managed swiftly.
The special children were away from home for the first time outside their comfort zone. Likewise, it was first-of-its-kind experience for all the trainee special educator.
As I did not want to sleep in the dormitory with children, I took special permission from the boot camp in-charge to stay in my hostel room for the night and join the camp early morning. She kindly agreed.
Next morning, I took the child assigned to me for brushing his teeth so that he could join the other kids on the breakfast table. But inside the bathroom, the child became fidgety. He was not able to hold the brush. Eventually, I used my own finger to clean his teeth. I just followed my call of duty and managed the situation.
“After a week, when I had forgotten all about this incident, I was in the same class taking a session as a trainee. I just heard a cheerful voice from the last bench, ‘’aap vahi Bhaiyya hain na jinhone apni ungli se mera daant saaf kiya tha” (aren’t you the same brother who cleaned my teeth with your finger).”
This kind of gratitude I had not expected from anyone. His words broke all the psychological barriers between myself and the wonderful community of the special kids. Although I did not pursue a career in special education, incidents at the School of Rehabilitation Sciences actually shaped my worldview.
(Srirang K Jha teaches Indian Ethos and Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Strategy at Apeejay School of Management, New Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)